As a relatively developed province with carbon emissions that could possibly peak before 2030—earlier than other regions—it is important for Guangdong Province to decarbonize its transport sector to achieve its carbon peaking and neutrality goals. According to the authors’ estimation, transport CO2 emissions accounted for 14.3 percent of energy-related emissions in Guangdong Province in 2020. This share is even larger in the Greater Bay Area and on the city level. For example, in the Greater Bay Area, the transport sector represented 31 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2017, becoming the second-largest source of CO2 emissions. In Shenzhen, the transport sector consisted of 52 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2015, rising to become the largest source of emissions.

Although Guangdong is a highly advanced province in China, the socioeconomic development is rather uneven among its 21 municipalities. The municipalities are characterized by thriving metropolises, such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou, but also by less economically advanced Non- Pearl River Delta Region (NPRDR) with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita lower than the national average (China National Bureau of Statistics 2021). Yet how to decarbonize the transport sectors—while promoting equitable access and economic development through investments on low-carbon transport infrastructure and zero-emission vehicle industries—remains to be solved. 

To this end, this study investigated the decarbonization road map of the road transport sector that represented 78 percent of Guangdong’s transport CO2 emissions. Given the regional disparity in Guangdong, the study breaks the province into four regions for region-specific analysis:

  • Shenzhen and Guangzhou, which are characterized by higher regional GDP levels and more low-carbon transport measures implemented than the rest of the regions; they also have the potential for road transport emissions to peak early 
  • Pearl River Delta Region (PRDR) (excluding Shenzhen and Guangzhou), which features relatively high regional GDP but lacks low-carbon transport measures 
  • NPRDR, which is less developed in Guangdong and does not seek enough low-carbon transport measures 

Based on the status quo analysis and the review of Guangdong transport related to the 14th Five-Year Plan, this study developed three scenarios for the province’s four regions to stimulate the decarbonization potentials of different mitigation measures, including the promotion of zero-emission vehicles, a mode shift from high-emitting modes (such as trucks) to low-emitting modes (such as railways), improved vehicle fuel efficiency, avoided travel, and decarbonizing upstream power/hydrogen generation up to 2060. Based on the scenario analysis, policy implications were drawn.

The results from scenarios analysis for the four regions show that decarbonizing Guangdong’s road transport sector requires synergies between different levels of governments:

For Guangdong provincial governments, the following measures are necessary:

  • Incentivize the accelerated adoption of zero-emission private cars in PRDR and NPRDR by providing provincial matching funds on local vehicle purchases, land acquisitions, grid augmentations /integrations, and charging network expansions. The provincial government could also benchmark the performance of zero-emission private car adoption among PRDR and NPRDR cities.
  • Establish clear targets in the 14th Five-Year Plan for zero-emission vehicle adoption. Certain models of zero-emission logistic vehicles are now economically viable, so the provincial government should set up clear five-year targets for their adoption and encourage leading cities, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan, Dongguan, and Zhongshan, to achieve 100 percent zero-emission logistic vehicles in new sales.
  • Develop long-term zero-emission transition plans for HDTs in the province. In the near term, launch zero-emission HDT pilots in urban/seaport/industrial zone duty cycles, and provide dedicated provincial subsidies and intercity highway access privilege policies. Provide low-carbon financing mechanisms for local original equipment manufacturers and suppliers to foster research and development of zero-emission HDT technologies. 
  • Develop charging/refueling infrastructure plans along provincial highways and establish coordinate mechanisms among different levels of governments and highway investment companies on land acquisition, grid augmentation/integration, and charging/refueling facility construction.
  • Improve Guangdong’s local freight railway plans; increase provincial and local investments in railway feeder lines connecting to (Guangzhou and Shenzhen) seaports, major industrial parks, and inland ports; promote intermodal terminals; provide necessary coordination among cities in land use planning and railway (or dry ports) infrastructure delivery; and support the growth in freight railway/waterway demands by acquiring new customers in other provinces.
  • Scale up the adoption of electrolyzers using nuclear and renewable power for low-carbon hydrogen production and provide funding supports/carbon pricing mechanisms so that the prices of low-carbon hydrogen will drop to an affordable level (less than 30 Chinese yuan per kilogram) and accelerate the decarbonization of power generation.
  • Improve transport-related statistical data collection, build emissions data platforms, establish dedicated offices or personnel responsible for Guangdong’s transport inventory development and validation, and build data collection and inventory development capacities to better inform low-carbon transport planning. 

For municipal governments in PRDR and NPRDR, the following measures are necessary:

  • Municipal governments in PRDR should accelerate the construction of urban metro/bus rapid transit systems, prioritize green transport, and introduce mobility-as-a-service and travel-demand management measures. Municipal governments in NPRDR need to work on improving the walking and cycling environment and transit services as well as introducing travel-demand management policies.
  • Municipal governments in PRDR and NPRDR should prioritize the promotion of zero-emission private cars by providing local subsidies and expanding charging networks.
  • Cities such as Foshan, Dongguan, and Zhongshan in PRDR should also prioritize the adoption of zero-emission logistic vehicles in the near term by providing local purchase and operation subsidies, road access privileges for zero-emission vehicles, and improved infrastructure accessibility and convenience.

For Shenzhen and Guangzhou municipal governments, the following measures are necessary:

  • Accelerate the adoption of zero-emission HDTs, including dump trucks, drayage trucks, and other HDTs operating in urban delivery duty cycles and set a model example for Guangdong and the rest of China to follow.
  • Enhance sea-to-rail or sea-to-water intermodal services at the Shenzhen and Guangzhou ports to reduce traffic impacts on the two cities and the difficulties in the zero-emission transition of HDTs.